Be strategic with your meal plan

Jacob Palmer

College is the first time students independently choose what food to buy where. Each student who lives on UT’s campus receives a meal plan. While these plans seem to map out all food expenses for students, that’s not necessarily the case. Students should take advantage of UT’s unique dining experience to practice running a personal budget.

UT’s dining plan is somewhat different than most schools. Rather than giving students a set number of meals or a variety of meal plans, every on-campus student gets 1,800 dining dollars and 200 Bevo Bucks as a part of room and board fees. Rene Rodriguez, director of dining at University Housing and Dining says the “system gives our students that live with us total control over how to spend their money.”

Those 1,800 dining dollars for two semesters of food might sound like a lot or maybe not much at all. Regardless, it’s easy for students to burn through if they aren’t careful of how and where they spend them. This is a major concern for the more than 7,000 Longhorns who live on campus.

UT’s dining plan allows students to get into the habit of budgeting the dollars they spend by focusing on a single expense. So rather than having to think about rent, utilities, transportation, etc., with a meal plan, students can use their time on campus to focus on budgeting for food. This is a great opportunity for students to practice budgeting before their expenses get too complicated.

Rodriguez encourages this budgeting of dining dollars and Bevo Bucks. He also advises that “the value for (on campus students’) money is in all-you-care-to-eat locations.”

Special education junior Lillie Saunders can confirm this. Living in Jester West her freshman year, she ate at J2 regularly. “I could get as much food as I needed for the time being and it saved me a pretty good bit of money,” Saunders said. She also encourages other students “to be conscious of how much things cost and where you could get them cheaper,” especially with produce and healthy snacks.

Budgeting for food early on can smooth the transition from on-campus to off. Students should take time to think through how much they can spend each month, week, or even day on food. This budget should take into account Bevo Bucks and personal trips to outside stores such as HEB or Target. From there, students can decide whether to spend their money at buffet-style or retail locations. 

Students can track their dining dollar spending on My Housing. Also, both Numbers and Excel offer templates for personal budgets. Apps such as Wally or EveryDollar also offer free basics on how to budget and track expenses. These are great resources for students to focus on their food expenses, but also can serve the needs of students who live off campus.

UT also offers a commuter meal plan for students living off-campus. This can continue to help simplify a food budget. And if UT’s current dining plans don’t meet your needs, Rodriguez holds regular meetings to listen to student input.

Students should take advantage of the budgeting opportunity that the UT dining plan provides. If they work to develop skills and habits in budgeting, they will be better prepared for life off-campus and even post-graduation.

Palmer is an English senior from Coppell.